Eau Claire (WQOW) - There's no debating that obesity is a serious problem in this country. What may be open for debate is what the government can do to address it.
Eau Claire's Comprehensive Plan has a health chapter. It's a lengthy document designed to encourage healthy living. There are many ways a city could go about doing that. One of several ideas the city is proposing is an "obesity map".
City of Eau Claire Associate Planner, Ned Noel, says, "So that the map would describe possible areas that people are more overweight."
It's a unique step that's never been done in Eau Claire before. The data would be calculated using the body mass index.
"By mapping we can get a sense of what neighborhoods in the community that might need some more attention," says Lieska Giese, with the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.
Those areas could potentially see more walking trails, parks, or even a community garden.
Eau Claire resident, Heather Thom, says, "I think it's a great idea, I've struggled with my weight my whole life and just having more options of things to do, and Eau Claire is a great town to do things outside. I think that's an awesome idea."
Eau Claire resident, Mari Griffith, says, "I think that's really invasive of the city to even try and do something like that, they can look around the city and find parts that don't have parks or trails and just put them in for everybody to enjoy. They don't need to know where the quote on quote, "bigger people" live, in order to improve the city that way."
One concern expressed by some community members is this is an overstep in privacy. WQOW News 18 asked the city how it plans to collect the data without violating any HIPPA laws.
Noel says, "We'd want to work with group partners whether it is insurers, or hospitals, or schools, or the university."
Here's an example of how it could work: your insurance company may have your BMI on file. By law, it can share that information as long as other information that would identify you is not released. So what can be shared is the BMI of person "X" who lives in a certain neighborhood.
"By doing things at a community level or a systems level, we can make a difference in health. So not just, telling someone to exercise but actually making sure that there's a safe neighborhood for them to exercise in," says Giese.
The obesity mapping policy is just one part of the comprehensive health plan. The city says this summer the plan commission will hold a public hearing and the city council will eventually vote for final approval on the plan.
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